Best Chest Exercises For Football Players

The 5 Best Chest Exercises For Football Players (2024)

I’ve been training football players for 20 years and almost every one of them loved to do 3 things in the weight room. Curls, Core Work and, you guessed it, Bench Press.

And, to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to Bench Press. Having a strong chest, and the pressing power that comes with it can be extremely beneficial on the football field.

So, spoiler alert, one of the exercises I’m about to give you is Bench. But, what other exercises are great for chest development? If you’re looking for ideas for your next upper body lift, here are some of the best chest exercises for football players that you can choose from.

Bench Press

I know this is probably the obvious one that you already knew, but I couldn’t not include it, right? If you’re looking to develop strength and size, there is no chest exercise that is going to do it better than Bench Press.

Bench Press

Equipment Needed

  • Multi-purpose lifting rack
  • Bench
  • Barbell
  • Bumper or Iron plates

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Set the height of the barbell so that when you unrack the barbell, you are only doing a very short upward concentric movement.
  • Lie flat on your back on the bench.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor. (Some do find it comfortable to pull the feet back toward their butt as they arch).
  • Keep your butt on the bench.
  • Pull your shoulder blades together and keep the back of your head on the bench. You will slightly arch your back. Keep your core tight and keep the shoulder blades pulled back tight.
  • Take a thumbs-width grip from the knurling and completely close your grip. Keep your knuckles pointing toward the ceiling and squeeze the barbell.
  • Later in this article, I will go over other popular grips and why they are used.
  • Unrack the weight and take a deep breath.
  • Control the barbell down during the eccentric movement and draw the barbell in, keeping the elbows at about a 45-degree angle away from the torso.
  • The barbell will make contact with your torso right at the nipple line on the chest.
  • Once contact is made, drive the barbell back up to the starting position.

Coaching Points

Always have a spotter, regardless of the weight. Yes, even for the lighter sets.

When you bring the bar down, lightly tap the chest and then press back up. Do NOT bounce it. I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve watched Bench Press like they were mad at their sternum.

In regards to your setup and form; treat every rep like it’s a 1 rep max. Put a tremendous amount of detail in your setup (Do it the exact same way, every rep)

Make small gains in weight over time.


Variations are great to work into your strength training program. They provide a new stimulus to the body and can keep your workouts from getting stale. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Barbell Incline Bench – Adjust the bench up to 30 or 45 degrees.
  • Pause Bench Press – 1 or 2-second pause at the chest. Make sure to stay tight (don’t relax when you pause).
  • Board Bench Press – Lay a board on the chest to shorten the range of motion. (I use these quite a bit in-season)
  • Tempo Bench Press – Control the speed of the movement. For Ex: 4 seconds down, 1-second pause, 1-second press.

RELATED –> Bench Press is number 5 on the list of my favorite exercises for football players.

Dumbbell Incline Bench

Utilizing dumbbells is a great way to add shoulder stability and fight against muscular imbalances. Oh, and you can still get crazy strong with them.

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells
  • Adjustable Bench (Capable of changing angles)

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Determine the angle for your incline bench. Most programs would refer to a 45-degree angle as ideal for it provides the best chest and shoulder engagement.
  • As you go higher with your angle, you are moving more toward a shoulder press. The flatter the bench gets, you are moving more toward a regular bench press.
  • Grab your dumbbells, sit on the edge of the bench, and sit the dumbbells on your thighs vertically.
  • Take a deep breath, lie flat on your back on the bench, and get your dumbbells in position ready to press.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  • Keep your butt on the bench.
  • Pull your shoulder blades together and keep the back of your head on the bench. You will slightly arch your back. Keep your core tight and keep the shoulder blades pulled back tight.
  • The dumbbells should be slightly angled (representative of the path you are descending with your elbows).
  • Press the dumbbells up.
  • Control the dumbbells down during the eccentric movement and draw the dumbbells in, keeping the elbows at about a 45-degree angle away from the torso.
  • The dumbbells will make contact with your torso right at the nipple line on the chest.
  • Once contact is made, drive the dumbbells back up.
  • When your set is done, do not freely drop the dumbbells without checking your surroundings. You could drop the dumbbell and it might hit a person nearby. Or your could drop your dumbbell and crush your fingers on a dumbbell that was left next to your bench.
  • The best way to finish a set is to bring the dumbbells back to your thighs and stand up with them. Or have a lifting partner take them from you.

Coaching Points

Remember as you move your bench up, the more you are engaging the shoulders and less chest. Be sure your angle matches the goals you’ve set for pressing.

This is a very shoulder-friendly pressing movement. Because the implement is a dumbbell, the range of motion is increased, the shear force on the shoulder is decreased, and the shoulder stabilizing muscles are engaged.

Common Mistakes

Do not let the elbows flare out away from the midline. The shoulders are incredibly vulnerable in these positions and the sheer force placed on the shoulders will lead to injury if the technique is not made a priority.


Plenty of variations to choose from with Dumbbell Incline Bench as well to add some variety to your program:

  • Dumbbell Bench – Lower down to a flat bench.
  • Alternating Dumbbell Bench – Benching one dumbbell at a time while stabilizing the other at extension.
  • Single Arm – Benching with one arm at a time will force some serious core stabilization.


Dips are one of my favorite upper body exercises for football players. You can build a tremendous amount of upper body strength utilizing your bodyweight (and then add weight as needed).

Equipment Needed

  • Squat Rack with a Dip Attachment
  • A Dip Station can be used as well if you have access to one.

Muscles Worked

  • Chest
  • Shoulders (Anterior Delt)
  • Triceps

Step By Step Instructions

  • Attach your dip rack to your rack. This process will vary based on your rack and dip attachment. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely.
  • Set your dip rack just above waist height. This will allow enough room for your feet not to hit the ground while doing reps, but not so high you feel you have to jump up into your first rep.
  • Starting position is hands on bars, arms extended, knees slightly bent and feet crossed (crossing feet is optional but does help with unwanted swinging in my experience.
  • Descend down by bending the elbows and slightly leaning forward.
  • Lower yourself under control until the triceps become parallel with the ground and then drive yourself back up to the starting position.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

The biggest mistake I see with dips is poor range of motion. If someone is struggling to be able to do reps, the easiest solution is to simply not lower yourself into a full rep, but this is incorrect. If a lifter cannot perform a full rep they should switch to one of the variations listed below.

The other issue I see my athletes run into is unwanted swinging front to back while doing reps. Stay under control, keep a consistent rep path, bend the knees and cross the feet. These are all solutions that I have seen help eliminate swinging while doing Dips.


You can easily modify the difficulty of Dips by using different variations.

  • Bench Dips – Great for beginners who aren’t able to do regular Dips.
  • Weighted Dips – Add resistance (weight vest, chain, dip belt) once you’re able to do sets of 15 to 20 reps.
  • Ring Dips – Easy way to introduce a ton of shoulder stability work.

Weighted Push-Ups

Push-Ups, including Plyo Push-Ups (pictured below) and Weighted Push-Ups, often get overlooked because they’re not “complex enough”. The truth is, no, they’re not complex. But, they are extremely effective. That works for me.

Equipment Needed

Obviously, no equipment is needed for regular push-ups. Here are possible implements that can be used to add resistance:

  • Bumper or Iron Plates
  • Chains
  • Med ball
  • Lifting partner (To help apply resistance)

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Lie face down on the floor.
  • Have a partner place the implement of resistance on your mid-back. Do not put the implement too high or too low.
  • Pull your toes in so that you’re on the tip of your shoes.
  • Eyes should be focused straight down or slightly up.
  • Pull your hands close to about the nipple line of the chest and bring them out about 2-3 inches away.
  • Take a deep breath, engage the core and brace.
  • Push yourself up in one unit. There should be no sagging of the waist. The entire body from head to toe should move up and then back down in unison.
  • Feel your scapula upwardly rotate and make sure the antagonist muscles (Back and biceps) are fully engaging.
  • Lock out your push-up and pause.
  • Slowly lower yourself back down and get ready for the next repetition from just above the ground. Do not fully relax at the bottom of the push-up unless your program specifies.

Coaching Points

Take your time and master the body weight push-up before overloading. The benefits of doing sound push-ups will pay dividends for your shoulder health and the potential to maximize your upper body strength.

Be mindful of where you put your weight. If you put it too high, you may inhibit good scapula movement. If you put it too low, you may cause your low back to sag and the core to disengage.

Control your push-ups. If you go too fast, the weight may move around causing coordination to be thrown off and most likely your form will deteriorate.

Keep the elbows at a 45-degree angle. For maximal chest, shoulder, and rotator cuff engagement, do not let the elbows flare out away from the middle. Also, do not let the elbow hug right next to the torso.

Common Mistakes

By far the biggest mistake I see in the push-up is lifters not using a full range of motion. Push all the way up and slowly lower yourself back to about an inch of the ground.

Elbow angle. Another common mistake in pressing movements is lifters letting those elbows flare. Remember to keep your elbows at 45 degrees to keep your shoulders healthy.

Weighted push-ups are generally programmed for strength. Keep the reps between 5-10 and focus on quality movement as you go up in weight.


There are a ton of Push-up variations in addition to Weighted Pushups you can choose from. Here are just a couple:

  • Plyo Push-ups – oftentimes done as Clapping Push-ups. Push yourself up explosively off the ground.
  • Feet Elevated Push-ups – Place your feet up on a bench to press more of your bodyweight.

Medicine Ball Chest Pass

Utilizing a medicine ball can allow you to incorporate some explosive power with your chest exercises.

Medicine Balls on Field
No gym? No worries! All you need is a medicine ball and a field to get good work in.

Equipment Needed

  • Medicine Ball
  • Partner or Solid Wall

Muscles Worked

  • Chest
  • Triceps

How To

  • Grab a medicine ball and a partner (or a solid wall)
  • Start on your knees, sit back onto your calves and hold the ball at your chest.
  • Explosively drive forward with the hips and throw the ball forward to your partner.
  • The forward hip extension should cause you to fall forward.
  • Catch yourself with your hands and then explosively push yourself back up to your starting position.

Coaching Points

Med Ball Chest Passes can be done from the knees as described above, but can also be done from a standing position. Regardless of what starting position you use, brace the core and be explosive!

Final Thoughts

Bench Press may be the champ when it comes to chest exercises for football players, but you need some variety in your strength training program. Doing the same exercises over and over can lead to stalled progress, or worse, injury.

If you need some more upper body inspiration, here are some of my favorite upper body exercises for football players.

Finally, if you’re training for the football field, chest exercises should be part of a complete multi-faceted training program. If you’re just rolling into the gym on Mondays for ‘chest day’, then you’re a long way away from maximizing your training.

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